The Star Alliance business class upgrade guide

By Chris C., December 29 2016
The Star Alliance business class upgrade guide

Whether you’re flying with Air Canada, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, United or any other Star Alliance airline, you may be able to use frequent flyer points to upgrade your economy class ticket into a business class seat.

This perk isn’t limited to the frequent flyers of each airline’s own loyalty program, either: you can use points or miles earned with one airline to upgrade to business class with another.

For instance, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles can be swapped for a business class upgrade on Lufthansa, United miles can be traded for a bump-up on ANA, Lufthansa miles can secure a better seat on EVA Air and Air NZ Airpoints can get you out of economy on Asiana Airlines.

Here’s what you need to know about upgrading to business class across the Star Alliance network of airlines, and the quirks to be aware of when using those Air NZ, Singapore Airlines or United miles for your upgrade.

Star Alliance business class upgrades 101

Because each airline runs its own frequent flyer program, some of the rules around Star Alliance upgrades vary from airline to airline: but most have a lot in common.

For starters, all upgrades are one-class only, so while you can upgrade from economy to business class, you can’t usually upgrade from economy to first class – nor can you perform two upgrades on the one flight, such as from economy to business and then again from business to first.

You can upgrade from economy to business on Swiss, but not economy to first...
You can upgrade from economy to business on Swiss, but not economy to first...

(Star Alliance has no alliance-wide premium economy upgrade award, so if you’re on an aircraft with economy, premium economy and business class, ‘economy to business’ is still considered one class.)

Only top-end flexible economy tickets are eligible for upgrades, too: on most airlines that’s the most and second-most expensive ‘Y’- and ‘B’-type fares, although some airlines also open this up to the third-, fourth- and fifth-highest tickets.

That means you can’t use points or miles to upgrade from lower-priced economy fares or on flights which were already booked using frequent flyer points.

More on Star Alliance business class upgrades

While Star Alliance business class upgrades can usually be secured from the moment you book your trip, there’s no guarantee that an upgrade will be available on your particular flight.

If it’s important to you, call the airline you’ll be flying with to confirm availability before making a booking, or contact your own frequent flyer program after you’ve booked to see what’s available.

You’ll also need to avoid booking onto codeshare flights if you want to upgrade, which means the flight number on your ticket needs to belong to the airline actually operating the flight.

For example, if you’re flying with Thai Airways, make sure you book a TG flight number only, not any other.

You'll be smiling too if you book the 'TG' flight number on Thai Airways...
You'll be smiling too if you book the 'TG' flight number on Thai Airways...

AusBT review: Thai Airways' new Boeing 777 business class

Upgrades to business class are also processed on a flight-by-flight basis and for all passengers on single booking (up to four), so if you’re flying with colleagues and don’t want to upgrade everybody, have the airline ‘split’ your journey from the group ticket before you request an upgrade.

Finally, if successful, you’ll earn points and status credits (or miles and tier miles, depending on your frequent flyer program) based on the original economy ticket you paid for, not at the business class rates.

Tips for upgrading using SQ KrisFlyer miles

Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer members looking to upgrade on flights across the Star Alliance can find a full list of eligible airlines and fare types on the Singapore Airlines website, along with a chart detailing how many miles you’ll need to upgrade on each route.

Among your options: 77,500 KrisFlyer miles to upgrade on Air Canada and United Airlines flights from Australia to North America and 65,000 miles for upgrades from Australia to China, Japan and South Korea on Air China, ANA and Asiana Airlines.

Snag a seat in 'BusinessFirst' (business class) on United using KrisFlyer miles...
Snag a seat in 'BusinessFirst' (business class) on United using KrisFlyer miles...

AusBT review: United Boeing 787 'BusinessFirst' business class

You could also upgrade from economy to business class on Thai Airways and EVA Air flights from Australia to Thailand and Taipei, respectively, for an even 50,000 KrisFlyer miles.

Note that KrisFlyer upgrades on ANA can only be requested within 56 days of departure and aren’t offered on Japanese domestic flights – nor are upgrades available on SAS flights within Europe or on any Avianca Brazil flights.

On all other airlines and routes, upgrades must be locked-in at least 24 hours before departure by calling (02) 8228 1188 within Australia or +65 6789 8188 from Singapore.

Also read: SQ business class upgrade guide (using KrisFlyer miles)

Tips for upgrading using United miles

If you’re using a stash of United miles to upgrade your flight, be mindful that you won’t be able to use them for business class upgrades on Singapore Airlines’ Airbus A380 and Boeing 777-300ER flights, but can use them on other SQ aircraft like the A350, A330 and Boeing 777-200.

Stretch out in business class aboard its Airbus A330s...
Stretch out in business class aboard its Airbus A330s...

AusBT review: Singapore AIrlines Airbus A330 business class

ANA domestic flights, SAS flights within Scandinavia and to/from Finland and all Avianca Brazil flights are also off the table, while upgrade requests on ANA and Ethiopian Airlines can only be made within 56 days of departure.

On all other routes, you can upgrade between 331 days and 24 hours before departure via the United website if booked on an eligible fare.

Upgrades can be had for just 10,000 miles between Australia and New Zealand – including on Air NZ’s long Perth-Auckland flights – for 35,000 miles between Australia and Canada and for 30,000 miles from Australia to China, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

Also read: Your guide to the United MileagePlus frequent flyer program

Tips for upgrading using Air NZ Airpoints

Air New Zealand is stricter with its Star Alliance upgrades: you’ll need to get your request in at least seven days before travel and you won’t be able to upgrade at all on Avianca Brazil or Shenzhen Airlines.

Singapore Airlines upgrades on A380 and Boeing 777-300ER flights are also unavailable, while upgrades on ANA and Lufthansa can only be requested within 28 days of your flight – giving just a three-week upgrade window before the other seven-day limit kicks in.

Upgrades with all other airlines can be requested online from the moment your booking is confirmed and ticketed, provided you’re again booked on an eligible fare.

In Airpoints Dollars you’ll need A$1,390 (or NZ$1,550) for an upgrade from Australia to the USA or Canada and a higher A$1,660 (NZ$1,860) between Australia and the whole of Asia.

Also read: How to get Star Alliance Gold status in a single flight

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

Chris C.

A former contributor to Executive Traveller, Chris lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Nov 2014

Total posts 363

Any tips on how to use Avianca Lifemiles to upgrade? 

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2534

Hi Michael, Avianca's website has all you need to know:

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Sep 2011

Total posts 82

Upgrades using points are hardly ever worth it. For example Australia-Thailand on TG is 50,000 KrisFlyer points to upgrade but only 47,500 to buy outright on SQ, a superior airline IMHO. The one advantage with TG is that there isn't a stopover 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 May 2013

Total posts 133

However, SQ still charges for fuel surcharge in SGD. I just made a booking BKK-BNE, for two pax, it was 97500 miles + $160 on TG and 76500 miles + $1190 with SQ. That's close to $500+ per passenger! 

I agree with SQ having a better product though!

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2534

Hi mspcooper, the figures you've given appear to be for outright flight bookings? The topic here is using miles to upgrade into business class, rather than using miles to book business class outright (which can certainly sometimes be the better option). :)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Apr 2012

Total posts 310

One perk which StarAlliance has over OneWorld. Wish OneWorld had similar upgrade benefits with each others alliance's FFPs. 

Hi Guest, join in the discussion on The Star Alliance business class upgrade guide